Australia delivers police vehicles and rifles to the Solomon Islands in a “revolutionary” donation.

Australia announced the donation of police vehicles and 60 MK18 rifles to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) in a move described as a “turning point” for Australia’s relationship with the Solomon Islands police.

The announcement comes after a turbulent year in relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands, particularly on the issue of security, after the Pacific country signed a controversial and secret security agreement with China.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare suggested that Solomon’s relationship with Australia had “soured” but attended Wednesday’s ceremony in Honiara where the vehicles and weapons were delivered.

Related: Solomon Islands first police travel to China for training amid deepening security ties

Also present was the Australian High Commissioner for the Solomon Islands, Lachlan Strahan.

Strahan tweeted photographs of the handover ceremony and said the donation was part “of the extension of our deep security partnership two decades ago.”

Dr Anna Powles, a senior lecturer in security studies at Massey University, said the move represented a significant change in the relationship.

“Australia, as part of its police partnership program with the Solomon Islands, has supported the limited rearmament and training organized by the RSIPF. This has included previous donations of vehicles, riot gear and guns, ”Powles said.

“The donation of 60 MK18 semi-automatic shotguns is a turning point because it represents a significant increase in capabilities.”

The donation of equipment, including weapons, comes with China’s increased involvement in the security of the Solomon Islands, particularly in the area of ​​police training.

In October, a delegation of 34 Solomon Islands police officers traveled to China for the first time for training.

“Police assistance has been increasingly contested in the Solomon Islands with its two main security providers competing for the flu,” Powles said.

James Batley, a former Australian High Commissioner for the Solomon Islands, said Wednesday: “I would rather they came to us than anyone else, to be absolutely frank. Countries like Australia are not limited to delivering weapons, but also to systems for managing weapons … and not everyone would. “

In his donation announcement, Strahan said “firearms come with rigorous training and strict safeguards, including safe storage.”

Batley said that while Australia has been involved in providing training and equipment to the Solomon Islands police for many years, China’s growing interest in the country cannot be ignored as a potential factor in arms supply.

“It’s not done in a vacuum … obviously you can’t take it out of the context of what’s happening geopolitically,” he said. “But he also has to tell us something about what the government itself wants, because it’s not that we’re putting things against their will.”

Powles suggested the move could spark alarm and distrust among Solomon Islands residents.

“There is already a lack of public trust in the police and this will certainly raise questions among those in the Solomon Islands who are concerned about the rearmament of the RSIPF,” he said.

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